What every tap dancer should know
At some point in a dancer’s training, whether they are four years old or 14, tap has probably made an appearance. Even if it was just a question of “What is tap class like?” or “Should I try to take a tap class?”, there is no mistaking the curiosity or want to indulge in what has been a staple in the dance community for years. While some may be on the fence with tap, there are a select few who catch the tap bug and want more. There are so many outlets at a dancer’s disposal when it comes to tap dance, but how can we ensure that we are getting the best training, gaining performance experience and using the best shoes possible? Dance Informa talks to So Dancer Jabu Graybeal and Só Dança Ambassador Aaron Tolson about what key things tap dancers should know to equip themselves for a successful career.
#1. Tap training is a must.
Just as we train in ballet, contemporary and jazz, tap should be right there in the line of dance styles. Tolson says, “In order to be a professional tap dancer, there is no other way. If you’re a dancer who wants to move on into the professional world, tap is important.”
Graybeal adds, “Tap training can benefit a dancer by strengthening their sense of rhythm, improvisational skills and chemistry with other performers.”
Tap training is not exclusive to just tap but expands to a wider spectrum of dance as an art form as well. According to Tolson, “Tap helps with other dance styles, while also focusing on timing and counting. Tap is dancing in the music and not on top of it.”
Even as professional tappers, Tolson and Graybeal find themselves always training and practicing their passion, which has proven to be a viable career for both. The bottom line is you have to want and work at it.
#2. Skills are great…even basic ones.
We have to start somewhere, right? Whether you have had little experience or none, there are skills that everyone should know when learning tap, no matter the skill the level.
“There are many ways to learn tap,” Graybeal says. “Beginners often start with the basic vocabulary such as heels and toes, exploring the possibilities of using just those steps. Intermediate dancers dive deeper into techniques like pull-backs, wings and exploring improvisation. Advanced tap dancers often focus on performance and choreography, improvisation and individual style.
In the spirit of teaching the basics, Tolson says, “For every level, the first skill I focus on is keeping time and learning how to count music. I purposefully don’t use music with my beginner classes and focus on weight shifts and transitions. With my advanced classes, the focus turns to listening. Tap is often married with jazz music. So, for the more advanced levels, the focus is on the importance of listening to the music rather than worrying about how many steps you’re doing.”
#3. What are the ‘go-to’ tap shoes?
Particular shoes serve as an important factor not only to the dance style but also to the sound and longevity, especially regarding tap.
As a Só Dança Ambassador, Tolson lives by utilizing some of the great styles of tap shoes Só Dança has to offer for the past 14 years. He tells Dance Informa, “Prior to Só Dança, I used different brands of taps. Although they were solid shoes, they just were not right for me. Só Dança asked what the tap shoes needed while fixing and changing it in the process. My current favorite shoe is Só Dança’s Men’s Premium Leather Pro Tap Boot, but I also wear the Men’s Premium Leather Pro Tap Shoes. Só Dança tap shoes are built for dancers with advice from dancers.”
#4. Tap is not scary. We promise.
Trying something new or unfamiliar is a scenario that we all must face, and tap falls right into the category of difficult styles that some may be weary of trying.
For young dancers who are afraid of taking tap, Tolson says, “There is nothing to be afraid of. Find a teacher who can inspire and push you but be gentle as well. Just like there is music in everyone’s life, tap dance is music. Know your level, and find a class you’re comfortable in.”
“Comfort with tap dancing doesn’t always happen overnight,” Graybeal adds. “Sometimes going back down a level or finding a different teacher can help.”
#5. Dance Conventions have great Master Tap Classes.
The convention circuit is one that is continuing to grow and foster amazing programs. With that, comes master classes in various styles and, even more importantly, with tap. Tolson and Graybeal share some of the same recommended conventions.
“I would highly recommend American Tap Festival, Nuvo and Radix Dance conventions,” Graybeal reveals. And in his fourth year as a tap teacher for Shake The Ground, Tolson says, “Dancer’s INC is also another great convention with master tap classes. I also highly recommend Radix, Revive and Nuvo. You can come away with some knowledge from each of these conventions.”
#6. Opportunity is right at your fingertips.
There are many avenues available worldwide for those who want to take their tap career to the next level. Whether it is joining a youth company or taking a shot at a professional company, the possibilities are endless.
“Find whatever is near you,” Tolson advises. “There are youth companies you can join that serve as a gateway to prepare you for professional opportunities. There are 68 tap festivals worldwide that are also beneficial for those who want to boost their tap skills. Speaking in Taps is a pre-professional company that is centered around creating performance opportunities for young tappers.”
Graybeal concludes, “Take classes with dancers you are interested in working with and inspired by.”